As the West Ham United family celebrates Christmas 2021, we share weird and wonderful Claret and Blue tales from 25 December from years gone by...
The last Christmas Day match
It is 63 years since West Ham United last played a competitive match on Christmas Day, and the likelihood is they never will again.
Tottenham Hotspur were the final visitors to the Boleyn Ground on 25 December 1958, when the newly promoted Hammers ran out 2-1 winners in a First Division fixture.
Goalkeeper Ernie Gregory, then 36 and in the twilight of his long and illustrious career between the sticks, was West Ham’s first-half hero, keeping the game goalless with a fine save from Bobby Smith.
Into the second period and it took just two minutes for Phil Woosnam to create the hosts’ opening goal, beating three Spurs defenders before firing in a shot which Johnny Hollowbread could not handle, allowing John Dick to slam home the loose ball.
With winger Woosnam in irresistible form on the left, West Ham doubled their lead when the Welshman found Dick, who supplied a through ball for strike partner Vic Keeble to score.
Woosnam was then injured by a challenge from Tottenham defender Maurice Norman and the home side were effectively reduced to ten men, as those were the days before substitutes.
Spurs pulled one back when Smith got away from Ken Brown and netted with 17 minutes remaining, but Ted Fenton’s team held on for a deserved victory.
Alfred Earl - The goalless wonder
He would not have known it at the time, but Alfred Earl embarked on an unwanted record run when he made his debut for West Ham United on Christmas Day 1925.
The south London-born right-back played a total of 206 first-team matches without scoring a single goal for the Hammers.
No player has featured in so many senior games without hitting the back of the net!
Earl did enjoy plenty of highlights in a Claret and Blue shirt, though. His debut ended in a 5-2 First Division win over Aston Villa at the Boleyn Ground – a game in which his near-namesake Stan Earle (pictured) netted a hat-trick.
The defender also started 38 of the Hammers’ 42 top-flight matches as they finished seventh in the top flight in 1929/30 and was in the teams which beat Leeds United 8-2 in February 1929 and Liverpool 7-0 in September 1930.
Ted Woodgate - Hat-trick hero
The last player to net a Christmas Day hat-trick for West Ham was the late Terry Woodgate, who scored all his team’s goals in a 3-1 First Division victory over Leeds United at the Boleyn Ground in 1950.
A left winger, Woodgate (pictured) was born in East Ham and played amateur football for Beckton before joining the Hammers at the age of 19 in 1939.
The outbreak of World War Two curtailed Woodgate’s Football League career after just four Second Division matches, before serving in the Essex Regiment and Royal Artillery.
After guesting for a number of clubs during the war, including West Ham, Woodgate returned to full-time football in 1946, and went on to score 52 goals in 275 competitive appearances – including his only competitive hat-trick on 25 December 67 years ago!
Amazingly, of the 1,255 players to have featured in a first-team match for Thames Ironworks FC and West Ham United, not a single one was born on Christmas Day!
Three Hammers came into the world on Christmas Eve – Diafra Sakho, who celebrated his 31st birthday this year, Billy Bridgeman (in 1882) and George Irvine (in 1888), both passed away many decades ago. And, for the record, Sam Jennings (1924-25) and Sofiane Feghouli (2016-17) were both born on Boxing Day, in 1898 and 1989 respectively
West Ham United clearly enjoyed playing football on Christmas Day.
Before the tradition ended in 1958, the Hammers would play at home almost every year on Christmas morning, with matches kicking-off at 11am to enable fans to support their team before heading home to spend the afternoon and evening with their families.
With the vast majority of Christmas Day fixtures being played at the Boleyn Ground, it is not surprising that West Ham had an enviable record when it came to playing on 25 December.
Of the 45 matches the Club contested between 1899 and 1958, including Southern League, War-Time and Football League games, the Hammers won 25, drew 12 and lost just eight, with just five of those defeats coming on home turf.
After World War Two, West Ham hosted ten Second Division matches over 13 seasons, winning eight, drawing two and losing none.
The Club’s all-time leading scorer Vic Watson also enjoyed Christmas Day football, scoring on 25 December in 1924, 1925, 1929, 1931 and 1933!
Boxing Day football has been a tradition for over a century in English football, becoming an even more important part of the fixture calendar after Christmas Day football ended in the late 1950s to allow supporters, players and staff to spend 25 December with their families.
In fact, Thames Ironworks FC played a Boxing Day fixture in the very first year of their existence, 1895, when Wandworth visited Hermit Road and were beaten 5-1. Incidentally, South West Ham had also visited on Christmas morning, with Ironworks running out 4-1 winners.
That would Ironworks’ only Boxing Day fixture but, after the Club had been reformed as West Ham United in 1900, the Hammers were regular Boxing Day competitors in their 16 years in the Southern League, with the highlight being a 4-0 home win over Plymouth Argyle at the Boleyn Ground in 1910.
West Ham were elected to the Football League in 1919 and drew their first Boxing Day game in the Second Division, a goalless stalemate at Bristol City, before scoring a 1-0 win at Bury two years later, in 1921, courtesy of Percy Allen’s goal.
The Irons’ first top-flight Boxing Day win arrived in 1923 – their first season at First Division level – when Billy Moore netted the only goal of the game against Aston Villa in front of 30,000 fans at the Boleyn Ground.
Arguably West Ham’s best-ever Boxing Day result arrived following promotion back to the top tier in 1958, when John Bond, Vic Keeble and John Dick were among the scorers in a 4-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur for Ted Fenton’s side.
And undoubtedly the Hammers’ most infamous result on 26 December came five years later in 1963, when Ron Greenwood’s team was humbled 8-2 by Blackburn Rovers at the Boleyn Ground, with Andy McEvoy and Fred Pickering each scoring hat-tricks for the visitors. Amazingly, West Ham went to Ewood Park two days later and won 3-1!
In more recent decades, West Ham’s best results were the back-to-back wins they achieved under Harry Redknapp in 2000 and 2001, when his teams thrashed Charlton Athletic 5-0 and Derby County 4-0, both in the Premier League and both at the Boleyn Ground. The Derby win was highlighted by Trevor Sinclair’s spectacular trademark scissor kick.
The Hammers have also done well on their Boxing Day travels in the last 15 years, winning 4-1 at Portsmouth in 2008 thanks to two Craig Bellamy goals, and by the same scoreline at Swansea City in 2016.